Wessex Water are a regional water and sewerage business serving 2.8 million customers across the south west of England including Dorset, Somerset, Bristol, most of Wiltshire and parts of Gloucestershire and Hampshire. Recognised by UK regulators as one of the leading water and sewerage companies in England and Wales, Wessex Water service a varied regional landscape.
Their aim is to protect and improve the environment, Wessex Water provide their customers and the local communities with excellent service and value for money. AMP7 is the UK water industry’s new five-year asset management and investment period, which kicked off in 2020. For Wessex Water, their focus in this AMP cycle is on balancing the growing environmental, financial and customer demands while investing in technology to improve and enhance their current ways of working. As a sector, many water companies are undergoing a cultural shift as they increasingly look for holistic solutions that are both cost-effective and customer-focused, as well as better for the environment.
Implementing digital workflows not just digital tools
Wessex Water is the only water company in the UK that acts as an owner, operator, designer and contractor. They have their own in-house engineering and construction teams meaning they are focused on whole lifecycle management of their assets as well as managing environmental and ecology issues. Operating from planning and design, right through to on site construction means the teams are focused on improving outcomes for their customers, while finding the most efficient ways of working. Importantly, the teams at Wessex Water collaborate with a number of internal teams and supply chain partners to do this so exchanging project data and information is a key component of their day-today activities.
Adam Bear, Strategic Digital Manager and Paul Verner, Principal Digital Engineer at Wessex Water began identifying improvements to Wessex Water’s current ways of working last year in preparation for AMP7. They recognised that although they had many digital tools within Wessex Water, weren’t being used to their full potential. Adam and Paul began exploring how they could improve efficiencies and enhance collaboration.
“We had a multitude of different systems amongst our teams, but we noticed that we weren’t using these tools to their full capacity,” comments Paul Verner, Principal Digital Engineer at Wessex Water. “There were examples where colleagues would access a digital form – for example a safety checklist but instead of completing the workflow in a digital way, they would print out the form, bring it to site and complete it by hand then scan it and save it back onto a local network drive.”
One of the benefits for Wessex Water in digitalising their current workflows means they can concentrate on developing proactive and data-rich maintenance schedules for their wastewater services when it came to managing the performance of the assets they own. “Understanding the performance plan of an asset is vital so we need to make sure capturing, managing and exchanging accurate and up-to-date project information is seamless and is managed accurately not only during project conception but all the way through to asset maintenance,” says Adam Bear Strategic Digital Manager at Wessex Water.
Improving ways of working within the water industry
Some water companies were already using a common data platform, so the team kept a close eye on the experiences of those companies to understand how this could benefit the team at Wessex Water. From there, they began exploring what common data environments were available in the marketplace and worked with Autodesk to review their digital products and workflows. They began by understanding their needs as a business and looked at products that suited every aspect of design and delivery. From their exploration, they found that BIM 360, an Autodesk Construction Cloud solution that connects workflows, teams, and data would help the team to centralise all of their project data.
“Wessex Water is a critical infrastructure provider so having access to information in real-time from anywhere supports us to deliver the best outcomes for our customers,” says Paul.
“We first rolled out using BIM 360 within our mainlaying team. This team don’t traditionally work with models and drawings – they’re a capital maintenance team so they service assets that are already in the ground. Rolling it out to this team first helped us to understand and refine some of the capabilities and processes we wanted to implement. It was easy for us to move this team to working in a more seamless way – the technology we were currently using had a convoluted way of setting projects up. To set up a project, it could have taken two or three days, but we found we could set up projects in BIM 360 in two or three minutes, so instantly we could see the benefits from the solution,” says Adam.
Following the success with the mainlaying team, they rolled out using BIM 360 as a document management system with their Engineering, Procuring and Construct (EPC) team with a focus on managing project data in one central space. “Our colleagues have really found the solution easy to use – they’ve had some experience using Autodesk AEC products in the past so I offered some initial short training and after that, the team were able to navigate the solution on their own,” says Adam.
The EPC team also linked up their Revit models and Navisworks with BIM 360 so everyone in the team could access the 3D models of their projects. “Prior to using BIM 360, not all our team were comfortable using 3D models in Navisworks alone. If your main job doesn’t involve designing or using 3D models, it can be difficult to navigate them, and you could also never totally be sure if you’re looking at the latest version. However, BIM 360 makes it easy to use 3D models – it’s more intuitive and it’s suited towards its purpose. It has really helped our teams to be more comfortable working in 3D,” says Adam.
Using the solution to introduce digital workflows
Wessex Water have also started using BIM 360 for their design review processes with external designers. “Our supply chain partners, and external design teams can upload drawings and we use BIM 360 to carry out design reviews which are working well on our projects,” says Paul. Incorporating project processes into BIM 360 has meant that internal and external teams do not require additional software to participate in this process. Adam comments: “The 360 nature to the product has meant that everything can be done in one place in one interface – it is much more efficient for us to carry out key project processes. When it comes to defining success, we’ve been watching system usage and monitoring how our colleagues are using the solution which has helped us to develop our training programme too.”
Keeping projects operational in the face of adversity
As a critical infrastructure provider in the UK, it was imperative for Wessex Water to be able to keep their projects operational during the Covid-19 pandemic. BIM 360 supported remote working and allowed Wessex Water and their supply chain partners to work collaboratively on projects without being together face-to-face. In a virtual environment, they continued to carry out design reviews and were able to provide supply chain partners with access to accurate and up-to-date project data. This meant project collaborators could access information when they needed it and for some processes, they could do this remotely on their own using BIM 360.
“I can’t imagine how we would have completed design and construction reviews during the national lockdowns without BIM 360,” reflects Paul.
“One thing BIM 360 has also enabled us to do is to bring more colleagues and partners into the design review process virtually who previously may not have been able to. It has really changed the way we do things for the better,” says Paul.
Looking ahead to the future, Wessex Water plan to grow their usage of BIM 360. They are looking to implement more digital workflows and the ambition is to use BIM 360 as their standardised common data environment on all projects. “We want to get to a point where using BIM 360 becomes business as usual – we’d like this to happen before April 2023 in year three of our current AMP cycle,” comments Adam. BIM 360 usage has increased by nearly 400% over the last year meaning Wessex Water can implement ways of working that makes better use of the data they have. Adam reflects: “We want to get to a place where owning our data and managing it better means we can do more with it. BIM 360 supports us to democratise our data allowing groups of people to interact with it which helps them to understand the content more easily.”
The team also plan to use more of the functionality that BIM 360 offers in the area of field management helping Wessex Water to better manage the assets they own into the future in a more efficient way with internal and external collaborators. “Encouraging and empowering our supply chain partners and employees alike to learn more about their projects by making data easily accessible can only be a good thing – it’ll support more innovative and sustainable decisions in the future,” comments Paul.